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We are YOUR ambassadors

Alisha works on a mural at Jeremy and Siwan's house -- perhaps one of Alisha's favorite fundraising activities!
Camping, music, and food with John (and Julie) near
Sedona, AZ. It was their second time camping ever!
Time has flown by for us.

The last several weeks have been filled with meals, miles and miles of driving, fantastic conversations, and live music -- all things we encounter in Lithuania but find in surplus in the Valley of the Sun.

Josh going for a post-dinner stroll with roommate Sam.
The longer we serve abroad, the more we realize the degree to which we've been shaped and formed by this place. And the importance of staying connected grows all the more evident. Life, understandably, moves forward whether you are present or not. When we left for Lithuania three years ago, we weren't running away from our lives here -- we were running toward something new as ambassadors of all who have played a role in forming our lives.

So when we see changes -- good and bad -- we recognize almost a parallel life that we gave up when we moved abroad. As Alisha often describes it, "Whole children happen while we are away. Relationships start and, unexpectedly, end. People we expect to see when we come back are gone and there are new people we've never seen before."

To be an effective ambassador, however, you can't just be connected to those who sent you in the past -- you must also be connected to those who presently send you.
Standing against injustice with Jesse.

All this is to say that we cherish those of you we have (and have not) been able to visit this summer. This time we have in the U.S. fundraising is an incredible gift and it fuels us for the work we have ahead of us next year.

We've done our best to connect with as many individuals and families while in the Valley as we could, but we recognize logistics make it impossible for us to see everyone. Bellow is a video we made to give a glimpse of what we, your ambassadors, have been able to do thanks to you all.

(The clips of the orphans were intentionally blurred for their protection)

There are too many people to thank individually who help us out while we're stateside. To be embraced and supported by friends, loved ones, and even total strangers is overwhelming and humbling.



Ukraine and Russia and LCC

Josh and the residents from one of his floors sit down to feast on the pizzas they made together.
Alisha leads a panel of LCC student leaders as they share their experiences.
The situation in the region, at the political level, changes hourly. It could be a full-time job to keep up with the news media regarding Ukraine and its neighbors. In the news, it seemed just a few weeks ago to be a relatively peaceful protest movement in Independence Square in Kiev related to alignment with the EU or Russia (with the Winter Olympics the center of attention in Sochi). 

It then quickly changed with a government overthrow and almost 100 deaths, to now a situation related to the autonomy vs. foreign occupation of Crimea, and it bleeds into Lithuanian uncertainty with Russian naval exercises in the Baltic Sea and on and on...any description of the situation is rendered simplistic because of the layers of history and regional relations involved. The point here is not to describe the political context.

As a small university in Lithuania, LCC International University’s primary impact is not at the political level. But we believe we do play a very important role.

The LCC pond isn't frozen now, but broomball/hockey was a great
success this winter while it was.
We demonstrate community. We are an international university – and we happen to have 69 Ukrainian students, and 53 Russian students on campus. Each one of us has strong opinions about the current situation, opinions that are determined by life experience, or education, or the opinions of others. 

As a community, LCC states, “We celebrate diversity of cultures and traditions, personalities and opinions.” (Core Value #5) Living in community means that we work on what unites us, and not what divides us. We are people interacting with people, not representatives of a government interacting with representatives of a government. 

The orphanage is still a big part of our lives. And orphans still
love Josh's beard.
We serve a God of peace.  In John 14:27, Jesus says: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." 

Especially when it feels like peace is being threatened, we must continue to carry a message of peace and reconciliation.

Alisha is, at times, the mature mama bird the Study Abroad
students need, as the picture above illustrates.
We stand for justice. We must be Micah 6:8 people: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” 

When God models justice, it is never modest or polite or understated. Justice is bold. But it is accompanied by a love of mercy. We must live and speak accordingly and we teach from this perspective.

Viktorija, who attends the Klaipeda Vineyard Church with us,
shows off her painting after a community event that combined
art and faith.
We care for the needs of our students. Very practically, we are monitoring the fluctuation of currencies in the region. In the year ending on Feb. 28, the Ukrainian currency had devalued by 26 percent. Four other regional currencies had also devalued by 15+ percent. As always, we have emergency financial aid available should it be necessary. 

We are people of prayer.  Above all, we must demonstrate our faith in the One who holds the future. We pray for each other, for national leaders, for safety and security, for the church everywhere, for peace. We encourage each other by praying for each other. 

And we go on. We've just had mid-term exams, spring break, underground potlucks, and chapel. Our lives cannot be defined by politics. But sometimes political situations help us clarify our message and provide new opportunities for demonstrating who we are.


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New Year, New Responsibilities, New Excitement

Amanda, our friend and co-worker, blindfolds Alisha during some Student Life team-building exercises.
A bit of an apology for this post. The text was all written up by Alisha in and we were ready to find pictures to make it nice and then...the Internet went out for 1.5 months. No joke -- such is the life that comes with living in a resident hall. A new update will be posted next week to give a proper update.

Life on campus at LCC International University has been extra busy as students return. For many students, summer is a time of working, studying and relaxing. We spent the last two weeks training our Resident Assistants (RAs). The training was extremely successful and I’m very excited about the new student leaders we’ll be working with this year.

Alisha snags some snacks during the Resident Assistant training retreat. If these
photos look familiar, we went to the same retreat center as in this post.
What, exactly, is it that you will do this year at LCC?” you may ask. Josh will continue working as a Resident Director (RD). That means he’ll care for the students who live in the East side of Neumann Hall. He also will lead and organize the chapel band, plan worship, and coordinate monthly events, meetings and co-curricular activities to aid in the RAs’ professional development. This will be a departure from last year when he supervised the residence hall receptionists and night guards.

In addition, Josh will also be the adviser for the Roots of Justice activist group. Roots of Justice is the group we wrote about in this blog post that seeks to educate the LCC community (and beyond) about the human-trafficking issues that occur in Eastern Europe and beyond. In an attempt to take a more holistic approach to the issue, the group is expanding to help encourage and support a climate of volunteerism on campus.

This year I (Alisha) have moved into a new role on campus. I am now the Interim Director of Community Life. I'll provide leadership and oversight for Community Life, setting the vision, tone and goals for the department. I also manage the Residential Housing program and staff (RDs and RAs) in order to provide a quality living and learning experience for students who live in LCC’s university housing (yes, this means I’m Josh’s boss – weird). Lastly, I'll provide oversight for the Office of Intercultural Programs (they provide intercultural educational programming at LCC and within the Klaipeda community).The un-fun part of the job is handling discipline for students who violate the community standards. However, even though it’s not the most enjoyable part of the job, it is an excellent opportunity to mentor the young students and get them back on the right path.

I’ll also be looking forward to coordinating the campus Artist Collaborative (i.e. Art Club). It’s an awesome way to connect with students where our passions intersect and build relationships outside of my job description.

We squeezed in a breakfast lunch with Ieva. Last year, Ieva was one of Josh's RAs.
This year, she is serving orphans with another LCC graduate in Kyrgystan. Check
out her blog here to see an example of how LCC students are changing the world.
In addition to our on-campus responsibilities, we will also continue to support the Vineyard Klaipėda Church through volunteering at a local orphanage and supporting the church-in-the-bar and open-mic nights at a local pub. We’re so lucky to have such great friends in Kel and Sharon – the church’s coordinators. Thanks to them and our partnership with the Vineyard church, my Temporary Residence Permit (TRP) has been approved and I’m legally able to work in Lithuania! This month at the orphanage, Josh will be attempting to teach the kids who are 13 years and older the concept of American Baseball – a tremendously foreign concept. Keep him in your prayers (editor's note: the baseball game went very well and the kids all were impressed with Josh's skills)

We’ll also be continuing the “church alternative/house church” we started in our apartment called the “Mustard Seed Project.” It’s specifically designed to call on the students who are curious about Jesus but might be skeptical of the church (sadly, this is fair number of LCC students). We’re hoping to continue to shine a little light in this part of the world.

This upcoming weekend will prove to be a memorable one. Josh will be hosting a futbol/football (don’t call it “soccer”) viewing party in our apartment – it’s the World Cup qualifiers this weekend and some of our students are tremendously excited to tune in. (editor's note: Nigeria won, much to the joy of one of our students) Meanwhile, I've got the chance of a lifetime to go home with one of our students, Renata, to her village for her family’s potato harvest. I’ll get to pick potatoes on their goat farm and their cat just had kittens!!! Needless to say, we both have a lot to look forward to.

Bonus Section

We like to play a game called "Eastern-European doppelganger." Occasionally we spot someone while out and about who reminds us of one of our friends from the U.S. Below is our second public installment. We present "David Boring."

This handsome devil is a chef at a new restaurant in Klaipėda called “Meat Lovers” – I don’t know about you, but he looks a lot like David Boring to me!

When I told this red-headed gentleman about the look-alike contest and told him my North American friend’s name was David Boring he couldn't believe it. He said, “There’s no way a guy this good looking could be called 'Boring.'” 

And with that, I wish you a great week!

Bonus Bonus Section

Here are a few pictures from Alisha's potato-harvesting adventure.
Most of Alisha's photos consisted of animals from the farm. For example, here are two "glorious goats."

Renata's family harvesting potatoes. It is common for families to work together to harvest their potato fields at the end of the summer. The potatoes are then divided into three categories -- large ones will feed the family through the winter, medium ones go to the livestock, and small ones are saved to re-plant the next season.

Alisha -- the happiest potato picker ever.

The harvest's yield.

Renata, right, gathers some apples to take back to LCC while her mother plays with
the cat, "Donut." It's no surprised that the family has fallen in love with Alisha and
ask Renata about her frequently. 

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Growing Community

Amanda and Bethany enjoy delicious food at a pot luck
meal. Josh has organized the weekly meals for all those
living on campus during the summer months.
How do you create community?

This is an issue that we'll be examining a lot during our time at LCC International University since a large part of our job description focuses on our creating an atmosphere that fosters community.

Before moving to Lithuania, we lived in an intentional faith community of sorts called Goldensun. At its heart, it was created to be a place where people could live out their faith in a community that places adults with developmental disabilities at its center. Living there meant rejoicing with our neighbors over small victories, lending a hand when one was needed, laughing together often, and sharing the burden during the sad times.

It's hard being away from that. Mark, Aaron, Traci, Jesse, Markey, Anna, Michelle, Jeff, Cade, Robert, Keturah, Jared, Monica, David -- I think about at least one of you every day and I don't think that will ever change.

And don't even get us started on our family and church community!

When we moved, we went from a place of being surrounded by community to having nobody but the two of us and that sensation was extremely unnerving.

But the beautiful think about community is that, with the right elements, it can grow like a weed. We are (happily) experiencing that right now!

The seeds of exciting relationships began to sprout as soon as our plane landed. And while it will never be the same as what we had in Phoenix, it is beautiful and gives us hope nonetheless.

This week as we continue our orientation and training, we are being equipped with skills and knowledge that will help us be the sowers of community in this dormitory. As we learn, I keep returning a quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer to stay focused on what truly matters.

Bonhoeffer, a pastor, theologian, and anti-Nazi resistant, once said, "He who loves community destroys community; he who loves the brethren builds community."

In other words, community means caring for people.

Keep us in your thoughts as we seek to care for people we've not yet met in an exciting, radical way.


Last Sunday we volunteered at a local orphanage. Here are some pictures!


We learned about the orphanage last month through the Summer Language Institute's camp pastor, Kel Fowler.

Kel, a New Zealander who has been living in Lithuania for the past decade, is the pastor of a local church that has a special relationship with this orphanage. He invited us to come and support a team from the Netherlands as they led a day of games, food, and quality interaction time with the children.

An interesting discovery is that a good portion of the children in the orphanage had developmental disabilities of sorts. I'm not sure how the ratio compares to that of such institutions in the United States, but it is certainly a very difficult environment to grow and develop.

While I was talking with one of the children, he asked me if I thought I'd ever come back. I told him, "I'd really like to."

He looked at me in the eyes for a moment and then said, "I'll be waiting."

It was a very good experience and we definitely plan on continuing to volunteer there when we are able.


Exploring Vilnius video

Now, as promised in last post, I present to you a photo montage of our trip to Vilnius, Lithuania's capital city, last weekend. Turn up your speakers because this video features a special commentary from the two of us!

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